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The six big lies in Tony Abbott’s attack on the environment

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The Abbott government has revealed plans to repeal a section of Australia’s environment laws that allows green groups to challenge approvals for mining projects and other large developments in the courts. Federal Attorney-General George Brandis said the government would seek to repeal section 487 (2) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and “return to the common law”, after it was used successfully by the Mackay Conservation Group to overturn the federal environment minister’s approval of the Carmichael mega-coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

The following is a run-down of the six big lies at the centre of the Coalition’s latest attack on the environment…

It’s the economy versus the environment

Last week Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared that the world only had one planet (true enough) and that we should try to protect it. But he was damned if was going to sacrifice the economy just to save the environment. The Fairfax economics editor Ross Gittins shows the stupidity of this thinking in this analysis today, pointing out that the economy was in fact a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. Gittins writes that two characteristics of economists stand out when it comes to climate change. First, they accept what the scientists are telling us without argument, and they don’t believe we can go on thinking “the economy” can be kept in a separate box to “the environment”. There are major interactions between the two that can’t be ignored.

galilee

The parade of projects

Industry minister Ian Macfarlane was sent out on ABC TV on Tuesday to defend the move to rescind all or part of the EPBC Act (the Abbott government has yet to make up its mind which one it is). “What we’re seeing is project after project held up in very various environmental courts,” Macfarlane told 7.30. “But the alarming thing about the case for Adani is it’s showing that the environmentalists are taking this war against economic development in Australia to a whole new level.” Asked to identify this so-called parade, or even a single example other than the Carmichael decision, Macfarlane was unable to provide one.

Remember, this is legislation introduced by the Howard government. As The Australia Institute points out, third-party appeals to the Federal Court have only affected 0.4 per cent of all projects referred under the legislation. Since the EPBC Act commenced in July 2000, about 5,500 projects have been through the EPBC process and only 33 have been taken to the Federal Court by third parties. Of the 33 actions, four were discontinued or resolved with the consent of the parties and six were ‘legally successful’, in the sense that the applicant received a judgment and/or orders in its favour.

Coal jobs at risk

Abbott and his team continue to use the 10,000 jobs figure for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine. This is despite the fact that the economists retained by the mine developers themselves put the jobs at just 1,642. And as The Australia Institute also noted on Tuesday, the biggest risk to coal mine jobs is the industry itself. Australia’s coal exports have jumped 39 million tonnes since 2013, but job numbers in the industry have fallen 32,000 in that time – the result of “efficiencies” such as autonomous trucks and other technology improvements.

Activists destroying the industry

The Federal Court victory of the Mackay Conservation Group has elicited a number of strong responses from the Coalition, including accusations that “vigilante” green groups were “waging war on economic development” – or, as per Senator George Brandis, “extreme green lawfare.” Abbott has described it as a “sustained campaign of harassment” against plans for a coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

But the biggest reason that Carmichael remains stalled is that international banks are walking away from the project, including the two banks poised to collect millions in advisory roles, Standard Chartered and Commonwealth Bank of Australia. As Tim Buckley points out, the project makes no economic sense, simply because the cost of imported coal is now more than that of solar farms, and the thermal coal price has fallen below the point where the cost of extraction, let alone the transport by rail and ship can be recovered.

The cost of emissions reductions

Clive Hamilton today neatly summarises how Greg Hunt’s environment department conjured up the $600 billion “economic cost” of pursuing higher emission reduction targets, as recommended by the Climate Change Authority. Hamilton, a board member of the CCA, describes the estimate as “one of the most egregious beat-ups you’ll ever read.” Hamilton said the CCA modelling misrepresented by Hunt showed you would need a magnifying glass to compare the economic cost of strong action compared to no action, let alone the weak action proposed by the Abbott government.

The sheer hypocrisy of it all

It’s not as though the corporate world doesn’t take advantage of the court systems for its own purposes. Monsanto has a veritable armada of lawyers to protect its patents for genetically modified crops. But while Abbott is trying to remove the right of environmental groups to object to coal projects, his government has created a new mechanism for anyone to protest against wind projects, including the creation of a “wind farm commissioner” and proposals to tighten laws. Abbott has made it clear he doesn’t like wind farms, a declaration that prompted the co-developer of Australia’s biggest wind farm to date, New Zealand energy giant Meridian Energy, to declare that it is no longer worth pursuing wind farm projects in Australia.

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  • john

    Yes Giles however this will never be main stream media.
    The public is being fed all kinds of rubbish and take only the headlines as truth.
    Todays take out is “jobs and jobs that is all I am concentration on”
    While it is admirable that the Government is concentrating on jobs perhaps just a bit should be looked at for instance the long term goals not the election cycle which is the fail in the present system.
    On every level of evaluation this generation is going to be judged very harshly by the descendants as a self thinking mob of people
    However as we live in the age of all for me bugger you jack that is the way it will be.
    Poor marks I am afraid, as to the points you made all correct however no one knows because this will never be made public.
    Yes those of knowledge know but not the general public who make the decisions.

    • onesecond

      Tell everyone you know. That’s a start and truth will finally win out.

  • Geoff Mosley

    Interesting in this context that the EDO in Victoria have a rule that they will only take the side of Wind Farm proponents even though there may be a possible issue re a threat of a particular proposal to an endangered species. I think it is called the anthropogenic approach.

  • trackdaze

    Fact is adani started this process when coal price was through the roof and renewables were at the base of the j curve. It probably counting its blessings that greg hunt stuffed up on the paperwork. Australia would be better served with jobs et al if it were to develop a proportion of the massive area for renewable energy.

    Even the coal barrons and barronesses must be cringing at the blatent love they are receiving for it is this government extreme views that will do more to advance change more rabidly.

    The only thing that will save this governement from being known as one term tony is a massive pivot on most of its policies to malcom in the middle

  • suthnsun

    I can only see the histrionics, lies, misrepresentations and stunning hypocrisy of TA BJ IM et al as the beginning of the death throes of a political party in terminal decline. Surely no party can survive the shocking betrayal they have foisted on us, get ready for even more vicious scapegoating and distortions..
    Someone needs to set up a public pledge site ‘ I ..Suthnsun, will never again vote LNP, as long as I shall live’

  • Macabre

    “[Adani] economists retained by the mine developers themselves put the jobs at just 1,642.”

    Even this overstates it. The actual figure is 1,464 “MAN YEARS” (excuse use of male gender). NOT permanent jobs.

  • Beat Odermatt

    What a good idea to get on the right side of the mining industry. Tony Abbott knows that he has less than a snowflakes chance in hell to be the PM after next election.

  • AndyR

    It should also be mentioned that the government cut money to Environmental Defence Offices around the country in December 2013, which in turn makes it increasingly more difficult for people to mount these cases (to seek counsel/advice etc.).
    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/abbott-government-strips-environmental-legal-centres-of-federal-funding-20131217-2zj2z.html

  • There is however the truth in a belief that Abbott, the NLP & ALP seem to subscribe to – ” My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren do not need protecting from the egregious greed and theft of their future environment and needs – it is perfectly right for this generation to commit them to lives of servitude to pay for our wastage and excess as well as the environmental degradation or even death because of our current lack of respect for them their’s and the environment’s future needs”.
    .
    Is this genocide of all Australian youth and future generations by its current governments?
    .
    Please blare and share widely to obtain some views on this concept.

    .